Medical, prison and other workers dealing with COVID-19 and concerned about taking the virus home to their family now have a few alternative places to stay in Salida.

Erik Rist is organizing one effort, reaching out to Airbnb and other property owners to see if they’d be willing to let medical workers use their houses now that they’re empty.

“I’ve had conversations with friends who are medical professionals regarding their concerns about working with sick people and then coming home and possibility transmitting the virus to their family,” Rist said. “When I saw that all the short-term rentals in town are now vacant, it just made sense that these unused properties could benefit the hospital workers who may already have a residence but do not want to use it for fear of infecting loved ones.”

Many Airbnb owners have signaled a willingness to help.

“People have been overwhelmingly generous in offering their properties despite concerns about infectiousness, costs and the normal legal liabilities that accompany a tenancy situation,” Rist said.

“I have gotten information from more than 20 Airbnb owners interested in donating their properties along with multiple property managers who represent many more.”

He also said several hotels, lodges and ranches told him they’d be happy to help as well.

So far, two workers have called Rist inquiring about alternative lodging and one has been placed in a home.

While there are currently more owners offering their properties than workers requesting them, Rist said he’s still adding owners to his list because “things will drastically change each week.”

Owners willing to volunteer their property and workers dealing with sick people who are interested in alternative lodging can email Rist at

Hospital staff said they appreciate the support.

“Erik is helping compile a list of local properties for our frontline staff to provide alternative housing in case they want to avoid any potential exposure of COVID-19 or potentially spreading the virus to family members, loved ones or housemates,” said Allison Gergley, public relations manager at Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center. “This is a gracious offer from local owners of accommodations, and we greatly appreciate their thoughtfulness at this time.”

Rist said most of the property owners aren’t asking for compensation, but added that is something to be worked out between owners and medical staff. “My intention is to make sure both sides are really comfortable and sure of what they are doing before they commit to anything,” Rist said. “Then I simply introduce them.”

Loyal Duke Lodge and Salida Inn & Monarch Suites have also been approved by Chaffee County Public Health to open their motel rooms up to medical, prison and other community members working with COVID-19 on a case-by-case basis.

Lorna Wheeler, manager of the two hotels, said three long-term guests have been approved to stay there, two for two weeks and the third for six weeks. Wheeler said they’re only charging guests “the bare bones – just what it costs to clean the room,” adding that she was hoping to keep her housekeepers working a little.

Hospital, prison and other workers dealing with COVID-19 who are interested in staying at those motels can contact Wheeler at 719-221-5437. Wheeler will then call county health to get approval and also help the department keep tabs on what’s going on.

“It’s been inspiring to see so many people generously offering to help their fellow neighbors in this crisis,” Rist said. “However, it’s also scary to hear firsthand how much vacant property there is and how much local income is being lost. The hotels are totally vacant and have laid off almost all their staff. It’s a lot of people being hurt financially and it looks like this is only the beginning.”

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